Infernal Aristocracy

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 119: Infernal Aristocracy




Once Wizards of the Coast snatched its magazine rights back from Paizo, Dragon in particular was in a weird place. Dungeon could stay an Edition 3.5-oriented rag, because Fourth Edition didn’t actually exist yet and as such its rules were still in a bit of flux. But Dragon, on the other hand, with its devotion as much to behind-the-scenes information and lore as it was actual mechanics, was split between content focused on both editions. This created a particularly strange situation in which one article, such as “Infernal Aristocracy: The Dukes of Hell” might be filled with the very last vestiges of classical D&D lore, while the next article, “Ecology of the Fire Archon,” would be a mess of incoherent Fourth Edition nonsense that completely contradicted it in every single way. This, combined with the magazine’s newfound boosterism and self-serving tone, its dramatically worse layouts and design resulting from being hastily cobbled together without a real staff, and its general slapdash attitude meant that at least during this period it was a much lesser periodical than it had been just a few months before. 

Still, much to my surprise, some of the content itself remained good. If you’re wanting to learn about the development of Fourth Edition, for instance, many of the articles are invaluable. I may be quoting from a few of these issues in the near future as I try to reassemble the mangled thought processes that went into its design decisions. But even if that’s not of interest, there’s plenty of quality writing and even newly commissioned art to peruse, if you’re willing to put up with the sometimes baffling formatting. The two-part “Infernal Aristocracy” series by Robert J. Schwalb—that’s right, he was almost single-handedly keeping Third Edition alive at this point in time—was something I truly didn’t see coming, but is an excellent edition to the ongoing politicking in Hell, and turns out to be the last word on this situation before the whole plane and cosmology imploded the following year. 

Jim Pavelec’s artwork for (I believe) Moloch, Titivilus, and Bael. They seem fine, I guess. I’m glad for newly commissioned artwork, even though I don’t much care for it.

The first of these articles, in issue #360 (October 2007) offers statblocks and profiles for Moloch, Titivilus, and Bael, who players particularly astute in the game’s lore would recognize from the past, in addition to a new pair of dukes, Balan and Bathym. More than this, it also builds on a missing piece of lore from Second Edition, which is that there is a level of devilish aristocracy between the pit fiends and the Lords consisting of unique individuals. I always appreciated this concept, but in general it comes up rather infrequently and is seemingly forgotten about for long periods of time. 


Moloch is the most famous of these not-quite-archdevils, and the lore here builds from not just the Reckoning, but also his failure in The Apocalypse Stone, an oft-forgotten work from the end of Second Edition in which he mostly features in an interlude. However he’s still working to regain his place in Hell, and “Moloch currently leads a subversive group of other exiles, working to build a new army to rise up once more and usher in a new era of Hell under his rule.”  There isn’t much else new about him here besides his statblock, but I’m glad he’s back in the continuity. 

Titivilus actually received a quick mention in Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells, but here he receives a full statblock and more details about his particular role in Dispater’s court. The same goes with Bael, who likewise was an original Gygax creation from the Monster Manual II. My favorite note about him is that “On the Material Plane, diabolists have often granted greater status to Bael than what he deserves, calling him king of hell and even naming him the head of the infernal powers.” Sometimes it can be difficult to reckon with real world notoriety, but I find attempts amusing.


While Balan and Bathyn had been mentioned before, this is the first time any details about them are offered. They’re a competing pair of archdukes in Phlegethos, one of whom remains loyal to Belial while the other now serves his daughter Fierna. They embody the growing conflict between the two lords of the layer, and are an excellent addition if you want to bring adventures down there. 

Marc Sasso’s work for the second article is much better, and it’s easier to tell who is who.

Presumably because I wasn’t the only one who liked this article, in the next issue, #361 (December 2007), Schwalb returned to detail another swath of archdukes. This time he took a crack at Agares, Tartach, Lilith, Hutijin, and Adramalech. Before this, only Hutijin had any real fame beforehand, and even with him I’m forgetting where he cropped up earlier aside from just being named. This allows Schwalb more freedom, which he does well with. Agares has a history with Geryon, but his assumption of taking over his former lord’s layer was thwarted, and he’s now conniving with Set. I particularly love this development, as not only does it for once bring a Hellish deity into the plane’s politics, it also takes a real world mythology into the game—even in 2007 this was a rarity, and in 2023 I appreciate this even more. 


Tartatch played a big role in Geryon and Moloch’s falls, to the point that he receives a “sidebar” detailing how this worked (I put that in quotation marks because the poor layout and design means that it’s only really a sidebar in theory…), though he’s not quite as interesting anymore. Lilith is my favorite of these new nobles, though, as she’s continually thwarted in her efforts, and despite her fame frustrated to essentially hit Hell’s glass ceiling. Her popular cult on the Prime is noted, but despite this she’s been unable to capitalize on this power base to take over a layer. I hope we hear more from her in the future, as she’s a wonderful contrast to the nepotism we see with Glasya. 


Not much is added about Hutijin—possibly because I swear he received a full profile elsewhere in a source I just cannot seem to remember—but Adramalech, the Chancellor of Hell, is an interesting figure. For one thing, I’m not quite sure what exactly this sentence implies: “Adramalech descended into the Nine Hells with the rest of the devils.” So is he a former angel? What preceded this fall? Anyhow, “this devil developed a flair for truenames and made every effort to learn the personal truenames of every rival, every enemy, and every ally in the Nine Hells, collecting them in a great tome known as The Book of Fire.” This book is quoted and mentioned many times in these two articles, though I don’t think it’s been brought up again in the game’s history, which is a shame because I appreciate more fiendish books of lore cropping up. In any case, “he regularly operates outside of his responsibilities, spying, issuing orders, and hiding things from the Overlord. As Adramalech seems to have no ambition to rise above his station, it’s not clear why he betrays his master as readily as he does, nor is it clear why Asmodeus doesn’t just school the Chancellor and bring him to heel.” It feels like there’s some excellent plot threads here, but the game just never continued with them.

For those of you who, like me, can never get enough of Hell’s sordid politics, this pair of articles is a must-read. There’s even new art for many of these archdukes, which came as quite a surprise considering how half-assed every other aspect of the magazine was at this point. Probably because the lore isn’t as lengthy as in the Demonomicon articles, Schwalb does better here and it really feels like a rich tapestry he’s woven between this and the Fiendish Codex II. Consider this article an addendum to that book, a fine exploration of an oft-neglected part of Hell that following these articles would quickly be forgotten and neglected yet again.

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